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Campus Questions Answered
Blind Teens Have Fun While Gaining Work Experience
by Karen A. Myers
St. Louis, Missouri
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Q: Are there work programs available for blind high school and college students? What kinds of jobs can I get?
A: It is important for high school and college students with vision impairments to gain paid work experience to begin building employment histories. According to the January 2009 Current Population Survey, of the "4 million people who reported blindness or serious difficulty seeing, approximately 3 million [75 percent] were identified as 'not in the labor force'" (www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=15&SubTopicID=177). This alarming statistic should be a wake-up call for all of us to take action.
Full- and part-time paid jobs listed on your resume indicate to future employers that you are employable, have the necessary skills to do the job, and are not interested in being in the 75 percent of people with vision impairments who are unemployed. And getting a paycheck certainly helps the bank account! Volunteer work is a great learning tool and indicates a belief in service to your community; however, you may want to search for volunteer jobs that have high potential to turn into paid employment.
There are several ways to go about finding a job. You can search on your own for full-time or part-time employment through online newspaper ads, local job Web sites, and Web sites of particular companies with whom you would like to work. High school students are encouraged to ask school guidance counselors for information about youth career fairs, local job banks and teen employment programs. College students can seek job search assistance from the campus career services center and disability support services office. Employers often share job announcements and internship opportunities (some of which are paid) with these departments and also send representatives to participate in on-campus career fairs. Take advantage of these types of fairs, interviews, and meet-and-greet sessions. They are ideal for networking and getting to know people who can assist you in the job search.
Although most of these jobs will not be specific to students with visual impairments, you might find jobs for which you are qualified with or without an accommodation. I encourage you to check these out and apply for those in which you are interested. And remember, it is up to you when you choose to disclose your visual disability. You may want to do so upfront in a cover letter or job application while emphasizing your qualifications and experiences or you may want to wait until a face-to-face interview. At some point you will need to request accommodations, and, when you do, you want to make it a comfortable experience for all parties involved--including yourself.
Job hunting may seem overwhelming. Keeping it all organized may appear to be a daunting task. I strongly encourage you to seek assistance from family, friends and counselors. A unique user-friendly site that you may find helpful is eSight Careers Network, http://esight.org/. A service of Lighthouse International, this site is "a powerful resource for learning how to manage your career or effectively deal with disability employment issues," according to eSight. There are job postings from disability-friendly employers who are interested in creating inclusive work environments. Additionally, there are articles about finding a job and where to begin, resources for job seekers and postings on community news as well as a networking forum. By creating your own membership login, you will be able to organize your job search and take advantage of the eSight services.
You might want to check out state and local summer work programs for students with visual impairments. Contact your state vocational rehabilitation agency. Find a list at www.jan.wvu.edu/cgi-win/TypeQuery.exe?902. Some other useful Web sites for teen employment and internships as well as a sampling of accessible titles are listed at the end of this article.
For examples of the types of jobs blind students are finding, I spoke with Alyson Slaughter and Michelle Wesley, two college students with visual impairments who shared their insights about summer jobs. Alyson, 28, a nontraditional student, legally blind since birth, attends Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Missouri. She is working on a second career in sports nutrition after a career as a licensed attorney.
Through her undergraduate years, she worked summers as a nanny, a paid job she found on her own through family friends. She cared for the three children in their home and spent much of the time at the local pool playing with the youngest child while the older children swam and played with friends. "Their mom took us since I was unable to drive. I was an experienced swimmer and there were plenty of life guards around, so I wasn't worried about the other children. I knew they were safe. It was a great job." She felt at ease and confident as a nanny, and was comfortable talking to her employer about her visual limitations. Alyson's employer had confidence in her, and Alyson did not believe that her low vision was an issue. Later as a law student, she worked summers in a legal clinic for free, interviewing clients and completing paperwork on the computer. "I felt comfortable asking my professors for accommodations, such as large print, ZoomText on my computer, and extra time to complete work if I needed it. They were nice about it, and it wasn't an issue." In her new degree program, she will do an extensive internship during the summer. Her advice to high school and college students is to apply for any job you want and are interested in doing. "Be independent," Alyson said. "Ask for accommodations, have confidence in yourself and just go for it!"
Michelle, 21, is a junior animal science pre-vet major and chemistry minor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is legally blind due to an autoimmune disease in her eyes and joints, and uses a white cane, large print, ZoomText, and a scanner for school books. Michelle has worked in a downtown art gallery and at an animal hospital for the past three summers. The art gallery is a project for people ages 14 to 21, 10 percent of whom have disabilities. The hiring process consists of an application and portfolio submission, and the work entails painting outside all day long. "Best job ever!" said Michelle.
The animal hospital was "a bit trickier." As an animal science major, she had been looking for a job in her field for a year and was unsuccessful she believes due to her visual disability. Through acquaintances, she was able to arrange a job shadowing experience with an animal hospital technician. "We clicked from there," Michelle explains, and she soon had a paid position. This is an excellent example of how volunteer work or shadowing can lead to a paid position. As a veterinarian's assistant she is responsible for "bringing in patients, taking histories, charting, assisting with holding and restraining, monitoring surgeries, running lab work, taking phone calls, and pretty much anything else that needs to be done.
"Assistants are like nurses to vets," she said, "and I am learning new things every day."
Regarding accommodations, Michelle said that her bosses are very accommodating. "In the art program, since it was a city job at least 10 percent of employees had to have disabilities so my employers have had a lot of experience with all types of accommodations. At the vet clinic we constantly talk about what I can and can't do and ways to improve since every day there brings new challenges with the different patients." Michelle recommends both of these types of jobs to other students with visual impairments if they are willing to adapt. Animal Science is a highly "visual field, and I have learned that there are some things that I can't do," she said. "If you are willing to accept help from others and be flexible with accommodations, it is very possible to succeed."
There is a wealth of information to help teens explore careers and find jobs. A guide specifically for teens and young adults who are blind or have low vision is JOB HUNTING RESOURCES FOR PEOPLE WITH VISION IMPAIRMENTS by Karen Lynn Thomas with Carol M. McCarl and Nolan Crabb available from Blindskills in large print, cassette and diskette formats for $10 per copy. For information or to order contact Blindskills at 800-860-4224 or visit http://blindskills.com/publications.html.
Career Books for Teens:
How To Get a Job If You're a Teenager by Cindy Pervola and Debby Hobgood (NLS: RC 47766, BR 11987 and Web-Braille)
Young Person's Occupational Outlook Handbook (NLS: RC 56352, DB 56352, BR 14794 and Web-Braille)
Career Choices: A Guide for Teens and Young Adults - Who Am I? What Do I Want? How Do I Get It? by Mindy Bingham and Sandy Stryker (RFB&D: GZ478 CD and Downloadable AudioPlus)
The Career Fitness Program: Exercising Your Options by Diane Sukiennik, William Bendat and Lisa Raufman (RFB&D: HP726 CD and Downloadable AudioPlus)
Career Wisdom for College Students: Insights You Won't Get in Class, On the Internet, or from Your Parents by Peter Vogt (RFB&D: JG626 CD and Downloadable AudioPlus)
TeenWork: Four Teens Tell All - A Guide for Finding Jobs by Noreen E. Messina (RFB&D: HS434 CD and Downloadable AudioPlus)
Teen Job Sites:
Teen Volunteer Opportunities:
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